(This is the transcript of a speech made by Doorway guest ‘T’ at the Doorway AGM. It should not be seen as forming part of the AGM minutes, and is T’s own story in his own words. An initial version was published on November 8th – the text was revised on November 20th from a recording of the speech which was kindly made available.)
“I don’t know what you want to know. I don’t know if any of you know anyone who’s been homeless or have been through it yourselves. As someone who has, on more than one occasion, and there’s different issues I have like that, my biggest salvation was finding Doorway. It’s not just that you go there and there’s a signpost pointing you to New Highway, or pointing you here or pointing you there – you’re actually led by the hand. And at that particular time I had actually had a breakdown. And the lady here [Lisa] took me by the hand and led me everywhere, to get me into accommodation and things like that. The staff, whether they’re paid or they’re not, do all give everything that they can, and it’s giving part of themselves that people like service users like myself appreciate more than anything. Twice since I was…..not had a complete breakdown, but there’s still been a lot of problems, been mentally unstable. Every time, this lady has helped me out, and picked me back up. She’s got me so much help in different areas, you know, from the Council, going up and doing the talking for me, because I wasn’t strong enough myself. And I think I owe it, from all the people that Doorway has helped like that, to say thank you on behalf of everybody who attends it.
You know, there’s people with various issues that are probably compounded by homelessness. If you’re not an alcohol abuser or you’re not a drug abuser, you give yourself a few weeks on the streets, and that starts to look like a good alternative. People don’t understand how long, and it’s strange, how long 24 hours is when you’re sat on your own in a doorway. And I used to have my favourites, it was like having second homes – but they just weren’t posh ones. As I say, people have drug issues, they have alcohol issues, and there’s enough people with mental health problems, as you’ll have all gathered. But, even the lot who’ve got no mental problems, life on the street will soon teach you them. And a lot of it is you’re on your own 24 hrs a day, for days and days at a time, when you can’t even have a conversation any more. Then you really realise how invaluable it is to go to Doorway.
It’s not just the food – although the food is excellent and I recommend it to anyone. The food is excellent, and the people are excellent, and if you can only go there, the people there have a sixth sense. They can come, and they can see you, and see what state you’re in, and they know if you want to be left alone. But they know if you need some sort of companionship. Doorway’s good with everything like that – there are other agencies that don’t, though.
It’s great to see other agencies here because I do understand that funding is very difficult to obtain from government, or from local government, or council or wherever. So if any of you don’t get your hands in your pockets, pay up!
So, as I say, I cannot praise Doorway enough and thank them all for what they’ve done for me, and what I’ve seen them do for an awful lot of people – you know, it is a very humbling experience. Me, now, because I’m still not quite stable, and I wouldn’t be able to get employed in a job at the moment, I started doing the only thing that I can think of to say thank you and I do voluntary work. I go to Wiltshire Wood Recycling 3 days a week. I also volunteer for the National Trust on a Wednesday as well. That strength to do that makes me feel that I’m repaying some of the debt I owe – and I owe a lot of people a lot of debt. You have various organisations that do so much for people, and Doorway shows you where they are, it leads you to them, and that’s when you get most benefit, because you don’t have to seek them out yourself, as you’re in no fit state yourself to seek them out. I used to be quite bitter about being homeless because I’ve had money, and houses, and cars and things like that, but because of different circumstances, various things have gone wrong. Yes, I’ve lost them a few times. Like that. When I first met Lisa, I think she thought I might pump myself back up and I didn’t actually, it was all sat there waiting. I think that when you’re a homeless person you can get resentful about things, because you do the ‘woe is me’, we all do that. Even if it’s your own fault or whatever you still do your ‘woe is me’ bit and feel sorry for yourself – well, we all do that.
I can remember a time where, you see, on the street you live amongst the threat of violence 24 hrs a day, people spitting at you, calling you a tramp. I’ve got pasted a couple of times, people want to piss on you while you’re lying in a doorway. They’re all bad things, but that’s part of life being homeless and if you think that, oh yeah, we all sit in the graveyard drinking, it’s because that’s the only bit of companionship you get, so you will do it. And if you can get respite from it, for even a couple of hours, you grab it ….. And especially as a lone person who is homeless, once you start getting to know people, you won’t be on your own, but the first part is very very difficult. I’m 51, my body is not really designed for the streets no more. You will take the respite of the drink or drugs – they actually go hand in hand and people don’t understand that . You become homeless and you will – because as I said it just gets those two hours killed. Because you can’t sleep properly and you are freezing cold. One time I was in the door of the optician’s, opposite Woolworth’s, and that was in February, and I was absolutely bitter. And you know what pissed me off the most, was that Woolworth’s had closed down, yet every light was on in there, and every bit of heating was on in there. And I was there. It upset you so much to see so many empty buildings that cannot even be opened up when it’s snowing, or it’s below zero, that people can’t accommodate people who are street homeless. I find that appalling. For such an affluent country, when we got our wealth from raping most of the countries we ran into..…what pisses me off when we have all this amount in our country – there should be no such word as charity. Because charity is exactly what it is, charity. Why should we have charity? Why shouldn’t everybody be entitled to some sort of standard of living? Why do we have so many people come back from Afghanistan, places like that, and end up on the streets because they can’t cope? We don’t look after them people.
And at the end of the day all the different agencies that have been involved, and what’s resulted and the help they give us, is absolutely invaluable. And I cannot say thanks enough. The only thing I can do is to try to put something back by doing volunteer work myself, something I’m capable of getting.
You know, I’m not a great comfort to anybody. I’m not that sort of person. But physically, yeah, I can hump and dump all day, so that’s my forte, and that’s how I applied for this.
Thank you very very much.”